NCAA Tournament

When it comes to Final Four experience, there’s North Carolina and none of the other teams

In this April 4, 2016, file photo, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams watches during the first half against Villanova in the NCAA Tournament championship game in Houston.
In this April 4, 2016, file photo, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams watches during the first half against Villanova in the NCAA Tournament championship game in Houston. AP

The Final Four coaches have combined for nine appearances in college basketball’s final week.

North Carolina’s Roy Williams has all nine.

Gonzaga’s Mark Few, Oregon’s Dana Altman and South Carolina’s Frank Martin are making their debuts, and the only program of the three that has gotten this far in the NCAA Tournament is Oregon — in 1939, when the Ducks won the inaugural event.

Not only has Williams taken teams to nine Final Fours — five at North Carolina and four at Kansas — he was there last year with the Tar Heels, who fell to Villanova on a buzzer beater in the championship game.

From an experience standpoint, playing before 75,000 fans, understanding the shooting background, handling the media barrage and attention, the ticket requests and all the other hoopla, the Tar Heels have a decisive edge, and nobody suggested otherwise during a coaches’ teleconference on Monday.

“Their players are experienced,” Altman said. “They went to the final game last year. Coach Williams has been there, done that.

“This is a new experience for our players, for our coaching staff.”

Altman had barely caught his breath from beating Kansas in the Midwest Regional finale on Saturday before dialing up coaching buddies who could speak to the experience.

He talked to Lon Kruger about the Sooners’ Final Four trip last year. Altman coached under Kruger at Kansas State in the late 1980s and succeeded him as head coach after the 1990 season. He chatted with former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, who took the Cardinal to the 1998 Final Four.

“Just trying to get some thoughts on what to avoid and what to embrace,” Altman said. “We want to try and help our players as much as possible and make them as comfortable as possible.”

The magnitude of the Final Four will be an adjustment for the Ducks, but they shouldn’t be overwhelmed by meeting North Carolina in the national semifinal, not after handling the top-seeded Jayhawks in Kansas City.

“Our guys realized that we had a little bit more of an obstacle to come to Kansas City with all their fans,” Altman said. “I think our guys prepared for that, realizing that it was going to be noisy and we weren’t going to get the support that we would get on a neutral floor or at home.”

Few said appearing in the NCAA Tournament is one thing. He expects a different level of distraction at the Final Four, and that’s to North Carolina’s advantage.

“I think everything is going to get ratcheted up 300 percent now with the media, the demands, the time,” Few said. “The general distraction meter is going to through the roof. And I think obviously the Carolina kids have dealt with that and managed it great, if you look at how they performed at last year’s Final Four.”

Once the ball is tipped, Martin expects the players to find a comfort level.

“Once the game starts I think everything is irrelevant,” Martin said. “Everyone’s nervous. I don’t care, you can play in the national championship game nine years in a row. If you go the 10th time, you’re nervous before the ball goes up in the air.

“But I do think it’s a huge advantage to Roy, his players, his staff members, everyone at the university, being through it as recently as last year. They’re fresh on the preparation, on the things to expect, what’s coming. That way they can better manage their time, their days to eliminate any distractions that can prevent them from being as prepared as they can for the game itself.”

South Carolina coach Frank Martin describes the "surreal" feeling of making his first Final Four with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Even Williams cops to the advantage, to a point.

“I think it helps a little bit in your preparation in telling them what’s going to be there and how big it is,” Williams said. “But then the kids get there, they take care of themselves. Kids nowadays are so much more experienced, they’re much more worldly.

“So people can play it up if they choose to. But once you get there, you’ve got to play the game ... and each coach is good enough to get their guys to focus on the games. And that’s what’s important.”

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff

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